Wednesday July 30th, 2014, 1:04 am (EDT)

Three Cheers (Almost) for Gus Speth

Gus Speth, America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012), 272 pages, $18, paperback.

The phrase “you’ve come a long way, Gus” kept bouncing around in my head as I read Gus Speth’s surprising new book America the Possible (Manifesto for a New Economy). The man whom Time called the “ultimate insider” tells how he was arrested in front of the White House in August 2012 and spent a couple days in the District of Columbia jail for protesting the Keystone XL pipeline.… There is little that is completely new in America the Possible for long-term Monthly Review readers, but Speth’s breathtaking admission of the futility of expecting change from working inside the establishment is totally believable. Who, after all, could be better qualified to say “Been there, done that?” What is the most useful in Speth’s book is the detailed catalogue of specific proposals which, if implemented, would revolutionize (not Speth’s word) U.S. society from top to bottom.… | more |

Notes from the Editors, January 2014

Notes from the Editors, January 2014

» Notes from the Editors

On November 16, 2013, Paul Krugman published a piece on his New York Times blog entitled “Secular Stagnation, Coalmines, Bubbles, and Larry Summers,” consisting of an extended commentary on former Clinton Treasury Secretary and Obama economic advisor Lawrence Summers’s November 8 presentation to the IMF’s Economic Forum.… Krugman, in following up on Summers’s IMF speech, highlighted Alvin Hansen’s theory of secular stagnation in the 1930s to ‘50s.… [acknowledging that] long-term economic stagnation…was now “the norm” for the economy, not the exception.… Writing in a fashion that could have come straight out of Monthly Review at any point in the last forty years, he declared: “We now know that the economic expansion of 2003–2007 was driven by a bubble. You can say the same about the later part of the 90s expansion; and you can in fact say the same about the later years of the Reagan expansion, which was driven at that point by runaway thrift institutions and a large bubble in commercial real estate.” But in trying to understand how stagnation itself came about and created this whole irrational set of economic conditions, Krugman…failed to draw attention to the much more important problem of investment under conditions of overcapacity and mature industry, as well as the whole question of monopolistic/oligopolistic capitalism—all of which were taken seriously at some level by Hansen, and were developed in a far more radical way by socialist thinkers such as Michał Kalecki, Joseph Steindl, Paul Baran, and Paul Sweezy.… | more |

The Plight of the U.S. Working Class

Modern capitalism, sociologist Max Weber famously observed early in the twentieth century, is based on “the rational capitalistic organization of (formally) free labor.” But the “rationality” of the system in this sphere, as Weber was to acknowledge elsewhere, was so restrictive as to be in reality “irrational.” Despite its formal freedom, labor under capitalism was substantively unfree.… This was in accordance with the argument advanced in Karl Marx’s Capital. Since the vast majority of individuals in the capitalist system are divorced from the means of production they have no other way to survive but to sell their labor power to those who own these means, that is, the capitalist class.… The result is a strong tendency to the polarization of income and wealth in society. The more the social productivity of labor grows the more it serves to promote the wealth and power of private capital, while at the same time increasing the relative poverty and economic dependency of the workers.… | more |

The Labor Share Question in China

In the past two decades, China’s economic growth has been increasingly dependent on investment. To maintain the growth of investment, China must sustain a fairly high rate of profit, and the fall in labor’s share has been seen as a crucial factor to sustain profitability.… Although the mainstream economists have widely admitted there is a downward trend for labor’s share in China, they explain this trend with a story that has nothing to do with class struggle. In this story, the decline of labor’s share is caused by sectoral changes, mainly the decrease of agriculture and the increase of industry and services as a percent of GDP in the reform era…. [But] Does the decline of labor’s share result from sectoral changes?… [In fact] the decline of labor’s share resulted from the loss in the power of the working class during the transition to capitalism. Sectoral changes have disguised the class conflicts in this historical process.… | more |

European Labor: Political and Ideological Crisis in an Increasingly More Authoritarian European Union

Political and Ideological Crisis in an Increasingly More Authoritarian European Union

Acute economic and political drama mark contemporary Europe. The terrible trauma of the financial crisis has been followed by a sovereign-debt disaster. In the countries most deeply affected, the people have been faced with massive attacks on public services, wages, pensions, trade unions, and social rights. The draconian austerity policies have pushed the situation in those countries from bad to worse, leading them into a deep depression.… Confronted with these multiple crises, the traditional labor movements appear perplexed and partly paralyzed. Social democracy is in political and ideological disarray and confusion, reflecting a deep crisis in these movements. On the one hand, social democrats have played a leading role in fierce attacks on trade unions and the welfare state in countries where they have been in power. On the other hand, other social democrats adopt statements and support appeals that sharply condemn the political course now followed by the European Union.… | more |

Who has little, let them have less

Marge Piercy is the author of eighteen poetry books, most recently The Hunger Moon: New & Selected Poems, 1980–2010 from Knopf. Her most recent novel is Sex Wars (Harper Perennial) and PM Press has republished Vida and Dance the Eagle to Sleep with new introductions.… | more |

Prashad at Large

Vijay Prashad, The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South (New York: Verso, 2012), 280 pages, $26.95, paperback.

Former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali sets the tone in his introduction to The Poorer Nations, arguing that the moment has arrived for scholars from the underdeveloped world of plundered resources and impoverished people to make the necessary statements themselves, rather than leaving that work to the first world left. Boutros-Ghali makes one other important point: that Prashad is hard at work rediscovering the hopes of earlier decades, the moment of anti-colonialist hopes, of common feeling among various nationalities and nations freeing themselves and looking forward to a kind of communitarian developmental process that was, often enough, called “socialism.”… | more |

Notes from the Editors, December 2013

Notes from the Editors, December 2013

» Notes from the Editors

The AFL-CIO held its annual convention this past September in Los Angeles. Many commentators hailed this meeting as historic, one in which the nation’s major labor federation finally came to grips with the near disappearance and growing political irrelevance of unions. Union density is abysmally low and declining, with an astonishing 6.6 percent of private sector employees now organized, lower than at any time in the past century. And, with rare exceptions, labor’s ability to influence legislation and workplace regulation is nonexistent. It could not even prevent passage last year of a right-to-work law in Michigan, the cradle of industrial unionism. All of this has translated into falling wages and benefits for union and nonunion workers alike, since the union threat effect on nonunion employers has diminished dramatically.… To reverse course, AFL-CIO leaders laid out a plan to broaden the federation’s membership base to include nonunion workers and members of fraternal groups, such as immigrant advocates and environmental organizations.… While we should applaud… [their] efforts, they leave important questions unanswered.… | more |

Marx and the Rift in the Universal Metabolism of Nature

The rediscovery over the last decade and a half of Marx’s theory of metabolic rift has come to be seen by many on the left as offering a powerful critique of the relation between nature and contemporary capitalist society. The result has been the development of a more unified ecological world view transcending the divisions between natural and social science, and allowing us to perceive the concrete ways in which the contradictions of capital accumulation are generating ecological crises and catastrophes.… Yet, this recovery of Marx’s ecological argument has given rise to further questions and criticisms.… | more |

Winstanley’s Ecology: The English Diggers Today

The English Diggers Today

Beginning in 2011 a festival in honor of the seventeenth-century radical Gerrard Winstanley has been held annually…commemorate[ing] the life and ideas of…Winstanley, leader of the Digger, or True Leveller, movement of the English Revolution (1640–1660). Largely forgotten for much of the eighteenth and nineteenth century, the communist thought of Winstanley was rediscovered by German and Russian Marxists in the late nineteenth century… From the socialists of the late nineteenth century to participants in the Wigan Festival in the early 2000s, Winstanley and the Diggers have provided inspiration for radical leftists for more than a hundred years.… What accounts for the lasting popularity of a relatively marginal social movement and its main theorist in the middle of seventeenth-century England? More importantly for present purposes, why have Winstanley and the Diggers held a prominent place for modern activists concerned with environmental issues and consumerism?… | more |

The Feminization of Migration: Care and the New Emotional Imperialism

Care and the New Emotional Imperialism

The astonishingly high number of women migrating is a new global trend. In the past it was mainly men who went to countries far away; women came as followers. In the last twenty years, however, this has changed so much that today over half of all migrants are women. Furthermore, female migrants have often become the main or single wage earners of their families. Saskia Sassen calls this the “feminization of survival”—societies, governments, and states more and more depend on the work of women in the labor force. Thus the necessary conditions of work and survival fall increasingly on the shoulders of low-waged, deprived, and exploited migrant women.… | more |

The United States Has Lost the War: An Interview

An Interview

The death of Vo Nguyen Giap on October 4, 2013, in his 103rd year, was noted with respect everywhere in the world. General Giap commanded the military forces that freed Vietnam from French colonialism in the 1946–1954 war that ended with the victory at Dien Bien Phu (1954), and that then defeated U.S. imperialist aggression in the 1962–1975 war that ended with liberation of Saigon. The heroic and victorious struggle of Communist Vietnam was a major factor in the growth of anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist movements that shook the previously colonized world, Western Europe, and even the United States. … In 1970 Monthly Review Press published Military Art of People’s War: Selected Writings by General Vo Nguyen Giap, that included a May 1968 interview with General Giap by Madeleine Riffaud, originally published in l’Humanité on June 4, 1968. In commemoration of Vo Nguyen Giap we reprint that interview. —Eds.

Reply to “The Myth of ‘Environmental Catastrophism’”

Ian Angus constructs a strawperson in his article “The Myth of ‘Environmental Catastrophism’” (MR, September 2013), which discusses Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth, which consists of essays by myself, as well as Sasha Lilley, David McNally, and James Davis. The book is concerned with the political uses of catastrophe and whether actual catastrophes or catastrophic rhetoric can spur people to action. At the heart of Catastrophism is the question of politicization. My essay, which Angus primarily focuses upon, looks at the indisputably catastrophic and urgent devastation of the environment…and asks why environmental movements in the global North have not been effective at moving people to action by simply evoking the calamity of the situation.… | more |

Rebellious Cities

David Harvey, Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to Urban Revolution (New York: Verso, 2012), 208 pages, $16.95, paperback.

Noting the global rise in urban social movements from Occupy Wall Street to the Arab Spring that are challenging the present global order, David Harvey asks in his new book Rebel Cities: “Is there an urban alternative and, if so, from where might it come?” In answering these questions Harvey explores the critical role of the city in the reproduction of capital and birth of radical social movements. He argues that many theorists and activists interested in broad-based social change have largely overlooked cities, despite the historical and growing importance of metropolitan centers in all aspects of human affairs.… | more |

Labor Divided

Zak Cope, Divided World Divided Class: Global Political Economy and the Stratification of Labour Under Capitalism (Montreal: Kersplebedeb, 2012), 387 pages, $20.00, paperback.

[Zak] Cope argues that the seemingly pervasive racism and cultural chauvinism in the global North is not the result of false consciousness, misinformation, indoctrination, or ignorance (at least to the extent that much of the political left assumes). Rather, racism and cultural chauvinism are the expression of economic interests shared by a variety of social strata in the global North, all of whom have an interest in exploiting the global South. Central to this argument is the idea that the labor aristocracy—the relatively privileged global North working class—developed as a result of the exploitation of the global South, and therefore has a material interest in continuing this exploitation.… | more |

November 2013 (Volume 65, Number 6)

November 2013 (Volume 65, Number 6)

» Notes from the Editors

There is a pressing need for a coherent left strategy on climate change and in relation to the planetary environmental threat in general.… We therefore read with considerable interest Christian Parenti’s article, “A Radical Approach to the Climate Crisis” in the Summer 2013 issue of Dissent. Parenti’s main thesis is that since the time with which to address the climate change problem is so short, “it is this society and these [existing capitalist] institutions that must cut emissions. That means, in the short-term, realistic climate politics are reformist politics, even if they are conceived of as part of a longer-term anti-capitalist project of total economic re-organization.”… [Parenti] insists that capitalism has been successful in the past in addressing “specific environmental crises” and that this will also likely be the case with respect to climate change.… Perhaps the best way to explain…[why we believe Parenti's overall argument is wrong] is to counterpose what we think would be a more appropriate statement on the nature of a revolutionary strategy. It would read as follows: Anyone who thinks that it is conceivable to counter climate change (and the planetary environmental crisis as a whole) without opposing and in part superseding the logic of capital accumulation is in denial of the very clear findings of climate science and critical social science—which point to the immediacy and unprecedented scale of the present epochal crisis and thus the need for truly revolutionary social change.… | more |

Twenty-First-Century Land Grabs

Accumulation by Agricultural Dispossession

Land grabs—whether initiated by multinational corporations and private investment firms emanating from the capitalist core, sovereign wealth funds in the Middle East, or state entities such as China and India—are now in the news constantly. For example, in July 2013 the Colombian ambassador to the United States resigned over his participation in a legally questionable effort to help the U.S. corporation Cargill use shell companies to amass 130,000 acres of land. This land was supposed to be used for agricultural production, but there is also land being grabbed for other purposes—such as mining or to construct roads, buildings, and dams. In human terms, land grabs mean real people and families are dispossessed. When people lose access to their land, they also lose their means to obtain food, their communities, and their cultures.… | more |

Britain’s Noxious History of Imperial Warfare

In his recent widely praised Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain, John Darwin….complains that even today there are historians of empire who “feel obliged to proclaim their moral revulsion against it, in case writing about empire might be thought to endorse it.” Apparently, he laments, there are still historians who consider it “de rigueur to insist that for them, empire was evil.” And, even more incredibly, there are some historians who “like to convey the impression that writing against empire is an act of great courage….” Darwin seems to believe that his new book is responding to some sort of anti-imperialist consensus, that the belief that the British Empire was a criminal enterprise has actually won the day and this has to be challenged. This will come as something of a surprise to most people who are under the distinct impression that the exact opposite is the case—that there is a pro-imperialist consensus very much in place.… | more |

Cambodian Political History

The Case of Pen Sovann

The recent history of Cambodia is little known, greatly disputed, and grim. [A]fter U.S.-backed Lon Nol deposed Sihanouk in March 1970, President Nixon launched massive raids on what he termed “sanctuaries” in Cambodia. The bomb tonnage has been estimated at twice what had been dropped on North Vietnam, and the loss of Cambodian lives at half a million—more than five percent of the total population. U.S. Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey, who visited Cambodia in 1975, described the wreckage as “greater evil than we have done to any country in the world.”… Pen Sovann, Prime Minister of Cambodia in 1981 after the ouster of the Khmer Rouge regime and who is today seventy-seven years old, played a central role in Cambodian left politics of the 1970s and ‘80s. This short biographic sketch of Pen Sovann, who consented to a lengthy interview with the author and is quoted often in the following paragraphs, depicts a political history from a left perspective that is openly hostile both to the Khmer Rouge and the present rulers of Cambodia. We present it as an interesting contribution to a history on which no final judgments are yet possible. —The Editors

It’s the System Stupid

Structural Crises and the Need for Alternatives to Capitalism

On Thursday, December 13, 2012, The Guardian announced Queen Elizabeth finally received an answer to her question—“Did nobody see this coming?”—about the 2008 financial crisis.… Perhaps she could have also asked three more questions: Does nobody see the suffering and socioeconomic injustices of oligopolistic-finance capitalism? Does no one see that the problems are structural and systemic? And is there no alternative to a system that generates continuous “quadruple crises”—the socioeconomic, political, environmental, and personal/psychological?… The conventional wisdom is “There Is No Alternative,” or TINA. For this reason most Americans simply acquiesce to capitalistic social relations and, like Sisyphus, are resigned to performing eternal tasks while enduring the “endless” quadruple crises generated by a pathological system.… The most extraordinary aspect concerning the absence of an alternative is that it is fallacious. The capitalistic system itself must be transformed. To put it into a slogan: Capitalism Is No Alternative, or CINA.… | more |